Film Review: ‘The Color of the Chameleon’

A darkly comic evocation of communist absurdities circa 1989

The Color of the Chameleon

A darkly comic evocation of communist absurdities circa 1989, “The Color of the Chameleon” follows the fortunes of an amoral, almost Tom Ripley-esque opportunist and his initially state-decreed, later self-mandated adventures in surveillance. Based on scriptwriter Vladislav Todorov’s novel “Zincograph,” referenced within the film as a key underground text, this debut feature from Bulgarian helmer Emil Christov creates an alternate reality that juxtaposes Kafkaesque bureaucratic illogic with the murderous whimsy of an off-the-wall freelancer.  Composed as a series of surreal shocks, this New Directors/New Films entry, rapidly changing tones alongside its fearlessly imitative hero, reps a dark horse for arthouse distribution.

Batka (Ruscen Vidinliev) is recruited by the secret police to gather intel on a weirdo group of “new thinkers,” where counterintuitive feminism and vaginal speculums hold sway. But Batka’s imagination soars far beyond the confines of his role; told to “be creative,” he produces a treatise on outer-space spying and the challenges of zero-gravity surveillance. Summarily dismissed, he fakes official documents to conscript his former targets as operatives in a fictional bureau whose stated objective is to replace spontaneous orgasms with state-controlled ones, but whose real aim proves more subversive.

The Color of the Chameleon
Tsvetat na hameleona

Reviewed at NewDirectors/New Films, Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 23, 2013. (Also in Palm Springs Film Festival; 2012 Toronto, Thessaloniki film festivals.) Running time: 111 MIN.

A Peripeteia Films, Nu Boyana, Bulgarian National Television, Restart production with the support of the Bulgarian Film Center. (International sales: Peripeteia Films, Sofia.) Produced by Bouriana Zakharieva, Vladislav Todorov.

Directed by Emil Christov. Screenplay, Vladislav Todorov, based on his novel “Zincograph.” Camera (color/B&W), Krum Rodriguez; editor, Alexander Etimov; music, Nikolay Madzharov, New Orchestra Ideas; production designer, Prolet Georgieva.

Cast: Ruscen Vidinliev, Irena Milyankova, Rousy Chanev, Deyan Donkov, Samuel Finzi, Svetlana Yancheva.